Without question, more education technology products are being developed today than at any time in history. Many of these products offer to change the teaching paradigm, and some of them actually deliver on that promise. But how do educators sift through all the options? And even more important, how do these innovations work together in a seamless and productive way? Rob Abel and his organization, IMS Global Learning Consortium (Microsoft is one of the 200+ members), are working to answer those important questions, and to bring together a fragmented industry for the benefit of learners.
Abel, with whom I had the pleasure of speaking recently, told me that the organization’s efforts are paying off, both in terms of simplifying interoperability and encouraging innovation. “Integrations that were taking 300 to 600 hours are now taking five hours,”
Abel said. “The whole point is to enable innovation in the marketplace and to enable a cross-platform ecosystem that puts innovative content and technologies in the hands of both teachers and students.”
A key driver of IMS’s success is that they really honed in on measurement. After all, if we don’t know what’s working and what isn’t, we can’t move toward truly transformational technology. According to Abel, “We decided that what we were aiming for is learning impact, a measurable impact on improving education: access, affordability and quality.”
For IMS, measurement takes the form of rigorous evaluation and competitions to determine the plug-and-play products that are most effective for learning.
Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure, where Rob Abel talks us through his vision for a “World Wide Web for education.”
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
My mission – and that of the non-profit organization I lead – the IMS Global Learning Consortium – is to create the equivalent of the World Wide Web for education – enabling an open platform that greatly accelerates educational technology innovation. Some things are hard – like world peace and global warming. But, integration of technology into the lives of teachers and students – technology that really has a positive impact on the educational process – should not be one of those hard things. It should not take a “hero” to make effective use of technology in education.
But, today, unfortunately, it is a lot harder than it should be. Why? The basic reason is that the needs of teachers and students are diverse in terms of the digital content and applications that fit what they are trying to accomplish, while the cost (time and money) of integrating these diverse technologies into the educational enterprise are high. The typical shool district might be using 50-100 educational software applications – none of which were built to talk to one another. As a result, the teacher or student experience with technology is far from seamless – it requires multiple logins, learning different systems and many times even manual movement of data between systems (if there is any movement at all). As a result, technology innovation actually can make the lives of teachers and students more difficult than before.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
Two things so far. Number one is that the vision of the equivalent of a World Wide Web for education has become viable by bringing together about 200 world leading organizations working together toward the goal (IMS had only 50 member organizations in 2006 when I became the leader – thus the growth has been 4x). IMS now has the leading platform, publisher, assessment, education technology innovators and leading universities, school districts and government organizations from around the world, and has issued over 125 conformance certifications for products that are coming very close to “plug and play” integration with each other and into the educational enterprise. See the IMS member list here. See examples of the plug and play data-rich applications here.
The second thing that has changed is that the IMS leadership community has now been focused not just on technology, but on the impact of technology on learning via the IMS Learning Impact program. IMS holds an annual competition at our Learning Impact conference. Since 2007, the IMS community has evaluated approximately 250 projects that feature the use of technology by a university, school or system. The evaluations have been performed by looking at evidence of improving access, affordability and quality of education. Each year, medals are awarded to the top performers (based on the opinion of expert judging panels). See the history of the Learning Impact Award (LIA) winners here.
Thus, IMS has become a collaboration that is not only making adoption of innovative technologies easier, but also has created a community focus on technologies from the educators’ and institutional perspectives. That is, what technologies can really make a big difference in addressing today’s and tomorrow’s educational challenges. Every year there are regional LIA competitions in South Korea and Australia – and Japan is considering it. Via these two accomplishments, IMS has become an organization that is really helping the educational community “create the capacity for change” by enabling an open platform and focusing on technologies that matter.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
This part is easy in the case of IMS. Thanks to the generosity of the IMS member organizations (who support the IMS work through membership dues and participation in workgroup activities) the IMS work is freely distributed and freely licensed.
IMS is one of the best sources of free stuff on the planet. There are very few situations where the investment of a relatively small number of organizations (the IMS members)
benefit so many.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
Personally I feel that innovation in education should be defined as making it easier for teachers and students to do the things THEY want to do. These are the innovations that succeed, scale and sustain. That said, no one can predict – therefore we need to lower the barriers to innovations of all kinds. As a friend of mine says – we are much better off
having thousands of people/organizations working on developing and sharing educational technology rather than just having a few people/organizations doing it. Thus the importance of IMS enabling the open platform. The education community has some very unique characteristics. On the one hand they are not as well resourced in terms of being able to support technology. But on the other hand they are more able to collaborate and create their own innovation than most segments. Community action toward an open collaborative technology platform is a good fit for this community.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Now is a great time to get involved. Leaders are coming to a consensus that educational systems and processes need to be more about achieving self-realization for the student and supporting teachers who are ready to do that. Go for it!
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
I think the trends towards “technology as a service” (such as Office 365) and mobile platforms and applications are going to help students (and teachers). The former will help “make technology easier” if coupled with open interoperability that makes support of innovative content and applications easier. The later will help students engage and personalize their experiences. The issue that will get in the way of learning is also related to mobile. Lack of ability to enable applications and content across multiple platforms will almost certainly greatly limit the ease with which innovation can spread. The good news is that the IMS work can help greatly on that challenge as our application and content protocols are platform agnostic. On top of both of those trends is the trend towards “rich data” or “analytics” that helps students, teachers and parents understand how they are doing and take action. Games are engaging because there is a goal and there is immediate feedback. We are beginning to see this same concept taking hold in educational applications and content.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
I think the number one tool of education is purpose. When students have a purpose, they will succeed. So, the key tools are new curricula that are real world problem-based but still covering key academic skills.
About Rob Abel,
Dr. Rob Abel is the Chief Executive Officer of the IMS Global Learning Consortium, a nonprofit collaboration of the world’s leading universities, school districts, government organizations, content providers, and technology suppliers, cooperating to accelerate learning technology interoperability, adoption, and impact. Abel has been the CEO of IMS since February of 2006.
Rob Abel is a recognized expert on the use of information and communication technology (ICT) for learning with over 30 years high tech and education market development experience. Under Abel’s leadership IMS has introduced the Learning Impact program, which is setting new benchmarks for high impact applications of technology in support of learning worldwide. During his tenure IMS has experienced dramatic growth in terms of members, revenues, and achieved significant adoption of IMS work by leading regional education communities worldwide. Under Abel’s leadership IMS is providing a foundation of technical interoperability and industry collaboration that is improving access, affordability, and quality of educational experiences worldwide.
For more information on IMS Global Learning Consortium, check out Rob Abel’s blog.
- Birthplace: New Jersey, USA
- Current residence: Lake Mary, Florida, USA
- Education: Ed.D. Education Leadership & Change, Fielding Graduate University; M.S. Engineering Management, Stanford; M.S. Computer Engineering, USC; B.S. Computational Physics, Carnegie-Mellon University
- Website I check every day: CNN
- Person who inspires me most: Whomever I’m with at the time.
- Favorite childhood memory: The New York Mets winning the baseball World Series in 1969.
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): EDUCAUSE 2012 Denver
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? I laugh a lot – if you’re trying to change this world you can’t take yourself too seriously
- Favorite book: Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore
- Favorite music: Rock
- Your favorite quote or motto: Education is the world challenge that underlies all other world challenges.